“Fences,” in my judgment, matches the incomparable “A Streetcar Named Desire” in every category. In fact, it is astonishingly comparable.
Writing: August Wilson/ Tennessee Williams
Actor: Denzel Washington/Marlon Brando
Viola Davis/Vivien Leigh
Director: Denzel Washington/Elia Kazan
Title: Fences/A Streetcar Named Desire
I want to talk about the title, Fences. Its profundity, as it dawned on me slowly and then gloriously, made watching the movie an unforgettable experience.
Since Copernicus, a mere 500 years ago, a blip in geologic time, we humans have gone from a closed world to an infinite universe. Our recognition of infinite space, together with Deep Time, has made us vulnerable to a universal, existential terror:
“Fences” is about Homelessness. In the footless void of the universe, we set up little havens of finite space, built in the middle of nowhere, fencing in a place for us, a somewhere to stand on our two feet. A poet recognized this universal need, “Folks want desperately to remain on their land, because once they leave, they’ll have no abode to identify as their native place.” Another poet observed, “We need a home, the place where, when you have to go there/ They have to take you in.”
Fences – let me count the ways August Wilson, in skull rattling, heaving poetry unfolds the richness of his metaphor. First, a regular fence along a property line, “Good fences make good neighbors.” A marriage fence, setting sexual boundaries. A family fence. A penitentiary fence in place for 15 years. A metal plate in the head of an injured war veteran, fencing in his brain. An Oedipal fence, the father fencing off his son from a football scholarship, a racial fence cutting off a youth from a career in baseball when he could drive a ball over the “fence” as well as Roberto Clementi, talk of Joe Louis conjuring the fenced in dimensions of a boxing ring, the fenced in space of a garbage truck driver alone in his cab and no one to talk with. I COULD GO ON.
The story is about breaking fences, recognizing the damage, suffering the guilt, repairing them when possible.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” was made almost 70 years ago. It remains a classic. “Fences” is comparable. I haven’s seen the other films nominated for The Oscars tonight, but “Fences” is one for the ages. If it doesn’t get any number of Oscars, I will assume the majority of the voting members are racist Republicans,